When The Brook Dries Up

2 GOD then told Elijah, 3 “Get out of here, and fast. Head east and hide out at the Kerith Ravine on the other side of the Jordan River. 4 You can drink fresh water from the brook; I’ve ordered the ravens to feed you.” 5 Elijah obeyed GOD’s orders. He went and camped in the Kerith canyon on the other side of the Jordan. 6 And sure enough, ravens brought him his meals, both breakfast and supper, and he drank from the brook. 7 Eventually the brook dried up because of the drought. 8 Then GOD spoke to him: 9 “Get up and go to Zarephath in Sidon and live there. I’ve instructed a woman who lives there, a widow, to feed you.” (1 Kings 17:2-9 The Message)

1 Kings 17 is the full story of the brook that dries up and the widow who lived in Zarephath. You can read it here.

When Jean and I and our daughters moved from Oregon to Jamaica to serve as missionaries in 1984 it was a leap of faith. The organization we were working with in the US was a loosely connected group of independent churches mostly in the Southeast. During the summer of 1984 we moved to Springfield, MO and began traveling the southern states to connect personally with the pastors and the congregations. It was hard work, we were traveling in borrowed vehicles (There are some miracle stories there!), and we were mostly well received by the churches.

Our departure from the US that fall would be through Miami, so we made a couple of trips from Springfield to Miami that summer: 1) to buy a car to ship later to Jamaica after we got settled a bit. 2) to deal with the Jamaica High Commission in Miami to get work permits, residency visas, and all the other myriad details that are necessary to live in another country. That summer was filled with challenges and pressure. There were some sudden and significant obstacles thrown up in our path, but God led us safely (if not always comfortably) through the complicated maze of red tape.

During our seven years in Jamaica, first pastoring a church in Linstead, St Catherine, a market town in the center of the island, then developing an interdenominational Bible Training Centre in Kingston, God provided faithfully (but again not always comfortably) for our needs. Initially getting the car shipped into the country, finding a safe place to live, making high school arrangements for our daughter Melissa, money for the rent, food for the table. Big challenges, but God provided!

In time the loose coalition of churches that had supported us fell apart. God gave us new connections and relationships, we made the move to Kingston, and the Bible Training Centre ministry took hold quickly and flourished! Then, by the end of 1991, it was clear that the Bible Training Centre could grow and flourish without us. We chose Pam Johnson, sister of Al Miller, whose organization was sponsoring our work permits and visas by then, to lead Whole Life Ministries Bible Training Centre. Under Pam’s leadership the school continued to flourish. A lot of flourishing going on!

It became clear that our next God assignment was to move to the UK and start an international and interdenominational Bible Training Centre in London! That’s a pretty scary thing to think about!

Sidebar: Keep in mind that all this was before the internet, before email, and when mobile phones were either car phones or bag phones! Communication was hard, expensive, and often slow, and sometimes simply unreliable! Can you remember what life was like then? Were you born yet?

We had left Jamaica and were staying in Atlanta while we prepared for our long-anticipated move to London. We rented a house with our two daughters in Tucker, GA, on the East side of Atlanta and were connected to a church there. Jean and I were traveling far and wide to raise support for our new undertaking. Living in the UK would be very expensive compared to Jamaica. And this time we didn’t even have the “loosely connected coalition of independent churches” we’d had a few years earlier when we were preparing for the move to Jamaica.

Over the years in Jamaica and the months in the US as we prepared, we had become accustomed to support coming from churches and friends around the US in the form of checks in the mail. We eagerly awaited the postman’s visit each day. But nothing was happening! We really didn’t know what to do! The clock was ticking, the calendar pages were turning, and we simply weren’t getting the resources we needed to prepare for the move to London. It was taking everything that came in just to meet the ongoing needs of the moment.

Jean went down the drive to the mailbox on a particular day and the only thing in the box was a red envelope that looked like advertising. She was just about to throw it away unopened when she noticed it was addressed to us and not to occupant or current resident. And then she saw it was from Jamaica Telephone and Telegraph. It was a telegram! I’m not sure we’d ever received a telegram!

It was a telegram from Pam Johnson in Kingston Jamaica! Pam said she was praying for us and felt prompted to tell us that God would faithfully provide. She quoted from 1 Kings 17:2-7, the story in which God directed the prophet Elijah to camp by a brook in the wilderness, eat food that God-sent ravens brought, and drink from the brook. But the brook dried up and God had already prepared another way to provide for Elijah! Pam’s words were so encouraging! It was a defining moment for us!

Our brook had dried up! But God was still committed to providing for our needs and the needs and requirements of the ministry he had assigned us in the UK. Something changed in that moment. What changed? We changed!

We took another step toward the conviction that God and God alone is our source. We realized that we were on God’s payroll. However the provision came, whether through a handful of supporting churches for a season, through individual friends and family members for a season, through gifts from unexpected places in the in-between times, God is our source! God promised us that he would always provide!

When we read Pam’s telegram, there was no sudden influx of funds for our preparation for the London move. In fact, when we left for the Atlanta airport a few months later to fly to London Heathrow to take the leap into the unknown, it was a surprise stop at a bank by our driver that provided the money for our first month’s rent and groceries in Leytonstone, East London! But when we read Pam’s telegram, “when the brook dries up, God has another channel of provision prepared” something changed in our hearts, in our worldview, in our faith! And while it wasn’t overnight, it was enough.

That conviction, that God will provide, has become how we see the world, how we’ve lived for the past thirty-plus years. We’re on God’s payroll. God has prepared and provided dozens, even hundreds of channels big and small in the years since that day. And we’ve thanked God for every one! And we’re moved to tears of gratitude when we think of those who have loved us and cared for us and shared their resources with us along the way.

The key lesson for Jean and me in the story about Pam Johnson’s telegram and her message to us that when the brook dries up God has another way to provide, isn’t about ravens or brooks or even widows whose flour and oil never run out! It’s that God is always our source!

Some of you reading this are among those who have been channels, gracious, generous channels of God’s faithful provision for us! I wish you could know the gentle tears of joy and gratitude your generosity has brought! I wish you could hear the blessings pronounced on you and the thankful prayers that we’ve prayed for you!

Here’s a thought for you: Just as God was faithful to provide for Elijah through the ravens and the brook, and just as God was faithful to provide for him through the widow whose flour and oil containers always had enough for one more meal, God provides for all who place themselves on God’s payroll. Whether it’s through paychecks or direct deposits, whether through salaries or “hourlies”, God is faithful. God is faithful to you!

If you’re facing challenges and uncertainties, ask God to confirm to you that when the brook dries up, he has another channel of his faithful provision just for you. And remember, if you’re on God’s payroll, he’s the boss!

As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.




No Place Else On Earth

No Place Else On Earth

When Jean and I signed on as administrators for the Cascade District of our denomination (an area covering Central, Eastern and Southern Oregon and Southwest Idaho), we asked our predecessor, Sim Ogle, to give us a brief history on each of the churches in the district and a brief bio on their pastors. Bob and Carol Richardson had pastored and led the little Foursquare Church in Myrtle Creek, Oregon for about 11 years. Bob and Carol both had serious health challenges, she with arthritis, and he with back and leg trouble from years working in the sawmill in nearby Ritter, Oregon.

At some point, we realized it was time to close the Myrtle Creek church. Attendance had leaked away and by now the only people attending were relatives of Bob and Carol who lived 25 miles away in Roseburg and drove to Myrtle Creek on Sundays just for the services. In fact, Bob and Carol also lived in Roseburg to be nearer their family and their health care. At this point there was no local outreach and there were no local people attending. Bob and Carol had served the church well and faithfully and at one time the church had served a reasonably thriving community well. But the thriving was long past, both in the church and the community.

As the decision to close the church took shape, we felt we should go visit them and give them what encouragement we could and help them walk through the process of church closing. So on one of our weekends of ministry in nearby Roseburg, we arranged to meet Bob and Carol at the church property in Myrtle Creek on Monday morning and let them show us around, then go to the Casino restaurant at Canyonville, five miles to the south to have lunch together.

We checked out of our motel in Roseburg that morning, and drove south on Interstate 5 the 20 miles to the Myrtle Creek exit. We followed our GPS to the address of the little church building. The building was dated but clean and nice. In a few minutes the Pastors arrived and we met them, then spent the next hour and more being shown around their church building. They loved their little building. It was a bit threadbare and worn, but very clean and tidy. Technology certainly hadn’t taken over in the Myrtle Creek church! In fact, they still had an overhead projector for projecting the hand-written transparencies on the screen during worship. All the rooms were clean and cared for, but the building was beginning to take on an air of disuse.

You see, the Sunday morning attendance was only nine people, including Bob and Carol! And the other seven who attended were members of their family who drove down from Roseburg each Sunday morning simply out of love for Bob and Carol. They had no presence in the small community. The building was only occupied for a little over an hour a week on Sunday morning. They had closed their midweek service a couple of years before because even their faithful family members weren’t making it down from Roseburg—work and kids school homework and weather in the winter months.

I took lots of photos of the building, inside and out, and pictures of Bob and Carol standing in front of the building. Then we invited them to have lunch with us at the only eating place nearby, the casino at Canyonville, 10 miles further down Interstate 5. We followed them to the Interstate, then exited behind them at Canyonville, and parked beside each other at the casino. We got a very nice booth, had a very nice lunch, spent the next two-plus hours asking questions and listening to their story.

The time we spent with Bob and Carol in that restaurant booth was good, but bittersweet. As we asked questions and listened and asked more questions about their lives and their family and their health and their sacrifices and their ministry to their aging congregation, there were quite a few tears – mostly their tears but some tears in our eyes as well. Much of the story had to do with the collapse of the lumber industry and the closing of the mill with nothing to replace it, and people leaving the area to find work elsewhere. And for most of their time at the church there were more funerals than weddings. In fact there were many funerals and very few baby dedications. We were reminded once again that while our systems recognize and reward success and growth, God recognizes and rewards faithfulness!

One story led to another and time was passing quickly. We still had a more than 4-hour drive to get home that evening. At one point I almost said, “Well, it’s been so good to meet with you and learn about the good things God has done through you and the ministry of your church in Myrtle Creek. But we really need to get going!” But I didn’t! We kept listening to the stories and asking questions that led to more stories and we were afraid the casino would start charging us rent on the booth!

As we sat there listening and simply being present with them, I processed my internal conflict between staying a little longer and getting on the road to home and for some much-needed rest and catching up on things we’d left undone while spending Friday through Monday in Southern Oregon. Then the Good Shepherd spoke to my heart in that inaudible but unmistakable whisper he uses with me, “There’s no place else on earth that’s more important for you to be than right here right now!”

Jean and I talked about that once we were on the road headed back to Bend. That has become one of my clearest messages from God and the time in Myrtle Creek that morning with Bob and Carol at the church building and in Canyonville that afternoon in the booth at the restaurant became a defining moment in my life. My values adjusted a couple of clicks closer to God’s values that day.

About two weeks later, we were able to come to Roseburg to the thriving church there and have a ten-minute slot in the morning service. We honored Bob and Carol in front of their seven person, all family congregation who sat together on the front row, and before the entire congregation of New Life Church. We brought Bob and Carol up on the platform and honored them for the faithful work they had done in Myrtle Creek, and even gave them a plaque to honor their service. Then we laid hands on them and prayed for them and 250 or so people stood and applauded them! No one had ever honored them like that in their entire lives! And at that moment, just like the moment a couple of weeks earlier in the booth in the restaurant in Canyonville, there was no place else on earth that it was more important for us to be!

Here’s some of what I took away from my God encounter in the restaurant booth that day, my discussions with Jean on the road back to Bend, and processing through the season of radical change and transition in our lives since that time:

    • There are moments that are more important for us than anything else that’s happening, any place else on earth at the time!
    • Sometimes those moments are thrust on us.
    • Sometimes we or others create those moments, intentionally or unintentionally, not realizing how significant those moments will be.
    • Sometimes we have an opportunity to create a moment like that for someone.
    • Sometimes those moments may involve a little inconvenience or sacrifice.
    • We need God-given sensitivity and awareness to recognize those moments as they are happening, not after they’ve ended and it’s too late!

Don’t miss the moments! Don’t rush through them or be in a hurry to get on the road, or out the door, or on to the next thing in your busy life. Those moments could be the most important moments of all to someone. And every one of those moments can be an opportunity for God to teach you or transform you.

Ask God to give you moments in which “There’s No Place Else On Earth It’s More Important To Be Than Right Here Right Now!”

 As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.

 See you back here next week!



Stay On The Path

It was a frosty early Sunday morning when I started out for my morning walk. From my porch the path to the park looked like it could be pretty slippery so I wasn’t sure when I started if I’d walk far. It turned out to be fine and before long I was walking along the trail in the park. Jake the Dog trotted along beside me, sniffing and peeing on every bush and shrub he could reach at the end of the leash.

It’s not unusual to encounter another walker on my early morning walks, but that morning, the park and the path were all mine! Jake and I have a kind of tacit agreement that if there’s no one in or near the park, I let him off the leash as we walk the loop inside the park. It’s his responsibility to keep his eyes on the park area and if another person enters the park, with or without canine accompaniment, he comes to me to have his leash reattached. He’s never let me down on this agreement, so we have a high degree of trust on the matter.

I guess I was kind of lost in thought and dialoging with God the way I do when I get my mind quiet enough. I was saying something like, “Father, I don’t think I know nearly as much as I used to. My mind used to be full of the certainties of youth. Pretty much everything was black or white, good or bad, right or wrong. I used to be certain about almost everything. Now my thoughts are full of the questions of age. I’m certain of far fewer things than I used to be. I’m realizing I don’t have all the answers. But I sure have plenty of questions!” I was just rattling on, telling God things God already knew but really doesn’t mind hearing again. Jake was trotting here and there, sniffing and peeing and keeping his eyes open for other park walkers.

Suddenly! (I don’t have any other way to say it!) Suddenly the sun rose over my left shoulder and the frosty path ahead of me exploded into sparkles of brilliant ice jewels!  I kept walking a few steps along the pavement of diamonds. Then I stopped and just stood there staring at it all. It was incredibly beautiful! It was the kind of beauty that a phone camera, even a good camera, won’t capture. And as I waited, it began to seem like a holy moment. Or at least that it could be if I didn’t rush on.

After a few moments, I said, “Father, is there something you want to say to me in this moment?” Then I waited. In a moment this came to me: “Stay on the path. Be aware. Be fully present. Stay on the path and keep walking.”

As I stood quietly and expectantly, I began to hear the winter birds singing to the sunrise. I felt the cold breeze on my right cheek and the warm sun on my left cheek. I looked ahead and the wood chip path stretched out like a river of diamonds. I saw the cloud of vapor as I breathed. I stood there maybe five minutes, until my legs were getting cold (I was dressed to speak at church later in the morning).

Then I started walking toward home on a path of diamonds. The path sparkled all the way home, except for a short section that lay in shade. But I knew the beauty was there, even as I walked in the shadows. I knew this incredible beauty would only last a few minutes. The same rising sun that turned the frost to diamonds would melt the frost and take it all away in minutes. But it was mine for the moment, if I was willing to give my full attention to the moment at hand! Jake rejoined me and I clicked the leash onto his collar. I tried briefly to call his attention to the beauty of the moment, but Jake was present in his own moment when a couple of doves landed in the branches of a tree just ahead.

I can’t remember what I spoke on at church a couple of hours later that morning. I hope my message was memorable and helpful to my hearers. But I’m still processing the experience on the path.

I realize this is all very subjective and I’m not doing “chapter and verse” stuff here. You can find a lot of my “chapter and verse” approach to the application of scripture to our lives in my daily “GraceNotes”, devotionals here. But I’ve also realized if my faith and my relationship with God is all and only about “chapter and verse”, I can become just as legalistic and Pharisaical as the folks who resisted Jesus throughout his ministry and who ultimately campaigned for his crucifixion. Encounters with God’s presence and insights from the Holy Spirit are a significant part of keeping my faith alive and functioning!

I’m still processing “Stay on the path!” I started a new segment of my Journey of Discovery a little over ten years ago, during a time of significant and often painful transition. I had help from a good friend who walked with me through the early part of that “path.” I had insights gained from conversations with friends, from books I read, from teaching I received. I had encouragement from my wife and family who didn’t always understand the what and why of my process, but who knew my heart and encouraged me along the way. I’m very much aware that this Journey of Discovery continues to be my path!

I’m still processing how my communication with God used to be mostly about getting needs met, getting answers to things, and reinforcing all my certainties. It’s now much more about learning to let go of unimportant certainties, learning to be at peace with uncertainties, and learning to trust in God’s goodness. Much of the energy that I used to put into looking for answers that provided certainty now goes into looking for how to ask the questions that lead to heart transformation and hope. The path, much like the mercies of God, is new every morning!

I’m still processing the importance of being fully present in the moment. For me that means getting out of bed and going out to the desert in the early morning, or if I can’t do that, at least taking a walk in the park. It means less TV and more conversations and contemplations. It means slowing down for some moments each day and just “being” – not listening to music, not reading, not being entertained, just “being” still. It means intentionally cultivating God awareness through what has become nearly constant conversations (in my head and heart) with my Father. I’m still on the path! I wouldn’t trade the path for anything, friends!

If I hadn’t made the effort to walk that morning, none of this encounter would have happened. The frost would have been on the ground. The sun would have risen in exactly the same spot. The diamonds would have sparkled in the path. But I wouldn’t have seen it! I wouldn’t have experienced that moment of grace! I wouldn’t have heard God say to me, “Stay on the path!”

As always, I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.

I’m planning to write more about stuff I’m learning on my journey. I’d love to know if you find that helpful.

Grace and Peace! Jim


How Reasons Become Excuses

Thanks so much for your replies and comments for last week’s blog post, An Opportunity Missed! It seems to have struck a chord with many of you and it’s kept me thinking about not only that opportunity missed, but a pattern in my life through the years. If you missed the post you can read it here.

I had been pondering this stuff about opportunities and “things left undone” as I prepared and wrote the blog post. (I call it pondering. Others close to me call it overthinking everything!) Here’s the thing, I’m an introvert. When I was a kid, before the concept of Introverts and Extraverts was common, I was a “shy kid.” Anyhow, as I was thinking it through, it began to make sense to me that my introversion was one of the reasons I missed my opportunity to learn from Oren Aldritch and to enjoy a relationship with him in his final years. Then my attorney friend Jacques DeKalb responded to last week’s post with some thoughts about why people like him, also an introvert, and me, sometimes miss those opportunities.

I know that my introversion has been a significant factor in shaping my life and my relationships. But I also realize that in spite of my introversion, I have done some “non-introverted” things through the years. I owned and operated businesses that were customer relations intensive, I was drawn to Christian ministry, and I’ve been doing public speaking since my teens. My military story and my tour of duty in Vietnam were also shaped by intentionally pushing the boundaries of my introversion. So while being an introvert is a legitimate part of who I am, it doesn’t have to dictate my entire story!

When my friend Jacques responded to my blog post and we began a series of email communications here’s what I realized: A very legitimate personality characteristic like being an introvert can be a reason for not reaching out. But if it keeps me from making the extra effort it requires to engage with my world and its opportunities, it has become an excuse!

I’ve included (with permission) my email communication thread with Jacques. This has been very clarifying for me and I can see its application in other areas of life beyond dealing with shyness. I’ve edited our conversation for length. If you haven’t read the blog post I’m referring to take three minutes and read it here.

Jacques DeKalb: It seems to me that “missed opportunities” is the curse of the introvert. As I look back on my own life, I see, and regret, so many relational opportunities I missed or failed to advance toward in my personal relationships, my spiritual life and my career. Lately, God has been helping me get beyond that innate shyness which is really a level of fear of stepping out, of drawing attention to myself. My deepest regret is that I didn’t recognize sooner that God could help me with this weakness. I have no desire to become an extravert, but I do desire the courage and faith to be bold when it’s called for in my relationships with others.

My Response: Hi Jacques! So good to hear from you! I’ve had many conversations with myself about the role my introversion has played in my “missed opportunities” through the years. It’s interesting that, for me, my introversion is a completely separate thing from my public speaking. Speaking in front of a group can be energizing for me but trying to speak to someone seated next to me on a plane (they still have those don’t they?) or in a waiting room is exhausting. Like you, I’ve realized that God can help me with pushing through the “impenetrable barrier” of introversion.

Jacques: Jim, I never had a problem speaking to jurors or at conferences either. I’ve read that many actors deal with introversion, but can step up when called upon. To me, it seems that if I have some authority or a specific responsibility in a situation, then I can be more outgoing. One on one with strangers is not easy at all.

I was about age 35 when my very outgoing secretary let me know that introverts were just as good as extroverts and I began to be more comfortable in my skin. I read that 20% of humans are introverts. I have read, too, about the introverts on bank boards of directors that felt like they were never heard when they warned about inadequately secured housing loan schemes. The extraverts just rolled right over them.

I think there are many introverted heroes in the Bible, starting with Moses. Maybe all the minor prophets. Jesus was not energized by crowds, but needed time alone with his father to be able to follow the course. I think of the widow touching Jesus’ robe in the press of the crowd. He was aware of energy being drawn from him. Probably every act of healing drew energy from Jesus such that he had to seek time alone with God to be restored. It’s a common trait of introverts to get energy from being alone. Extroverts need the energy of crowds.

Bless you, Jim, for being bold about missing real treasures. I have missed so many myself! On the other hand, being introverted has also kept me out of a lot of trouble! I thank God for that!

My Response: Thanks, Jacques! I’m starting to think you should be writing this instead of me! (As it turns out we both have had a hand in this post!)

So what do we do with this stuff? This is something I’ll be thinking about and processing for a while! Being an introvert is a reason, a legitimate reason, for having a hard time reaching across the invisible barrier it creates. It’s a reason for why it’s difficult to act or speak up, but if we don’t make the effort, climb out of our cave, step up and smile a smile and speak some words, it becomes an excuse. I’m committing, as Jacques says above, to looking to God for the courage and faith to be bold when it’s called for in my relationships with others.

There can be other things we find difficult or that we struggle with. Often it’s just too easy to allow the reason for the difficulty to become an excuse for not acting, not embracing the opportunity. Most any personality characteristic, strength or weakness, like or dislike, can be a reason that we do or don’t do things. But if that characteristic or preference keeps us from doing things we know we should do, things we feel prompted to do, a perfectly good reason becomes a very costly excuse.

What does this stir up in you? What “reasons” do you find easy to turn into “excuses”? We know beyond doubt that God loves us and accepts us just as we are. But we also know God loves us too much to leave us just as we were! So let’s reject the excuses and draw on God’s gracious enablement to “Just Do It!”

As always, I welcome your comments or questions. If you’re reading this in the email, you can simply click reply and respond. If you’re reading it on the blog at https://jimastephens.com, you can respond in the comments section at the end. Thanks for reading!


An Opportunity Missed

I remember when Jean and I attended the memorial service for Oren Aldritch, our neighbor across the cul-de-sac. He had been ill at home for quite a while, receiving part time nursing care for several months, and eventually hospice care. He was 85.

Oren was an old man when we moved into the neighborhood, but still able to drive. As he aged and weakened, I often shoveled his driveway early in the morning after an overnight snowfall. One year, near Christmas time, Oren and Helen invited us over for coffee and cake. We enjoyed meeting them, but never followed up.

From my living room window, I watched age and ill health take its toll on Oren. Gradually, he went from being able to drive to the store and walk his little dog Tuffy to the mailbox down the street, to taking short walks down to the corner with a walker, to riding down to the mail box in a little electric scooter. Eventually he was house-bound, then hospitalized for a short while. One morning, Helen came to the door and asked me to come over and help Oren. He had fallen in the back yard and she couldn’t get him to his feet. I helped him up and to his bed. It wasn’t long after that they began home nursing care.

I became accustomed to seeing the care-givers’ cars parked in front of Oren and Helen’s house for the next few months. Then one morning I saw the van from the funeral home back into the driveway at 6:30 AM and soon they took Oren’s body away. We spoke to Helen and told her how sorry we were for her loss. She said his passing was peaceful and she had no regrets over the final season of Oren’s life.

Over the next couple of days, family came and went, and plans were put in place for the memorial service. On the day, Jean and I went to the United Methodist Church for the service. As the service progressed and we sang old hymns, as old friends told stories of Oren’s life and interests, and as I read the obituary and listened to the eulogy I began to feel such a sense of loss, of missed opportunity!

I found out that Oren was an amazing man, deeply spiritual, strong in faith, and passionate about discovery and learning! Oren had written books of poetry that revealed his love for God, for God’s creation, for his family, and for people who were near to and people who were far from God. His poems were passionate, descriptive, and challenging. His friends spoke of him as the most spiritual man they knew.

All those days and months and years, I had sat in my house across the cul-de-sac from a man who was a  treasure of insight, wisdom, and creativity. The sense of missed opportunity hit me hard as I began to learn about Oren and his life. The sense of missed opportunity continued to grow as I listened to one person after another speak of Oren’s life.

Here’s how I felt: I felt as if I had come into town and grabbed a quick burger at McDonald’s and then later discovered that there was a Black Angus Steak House two streets over. I felt as if I had sat home watching reruns of America’s Funniest Home Videos when U2 was giving a free concert across town.

Shortly after the memorial service for Oren, I spoke to hundreds of people in the weekend services at Westside church about realizing the treasure of wisdom and insight that God has placed in the lives of the older people among us. I challenged the old to reach across the generation gap to the young and the young to reach out to the older folks.

Yet for nine years I had sat daily in my living room, looking across the cul-de-sac at the living room windows of Oren and Helen’s house, never knowing the treasure in the life and heart of the man who was spending his final years just over there on the other side of the street. I could have learned so much from him! I could have shared so much with him! It was an opportunity lost and it’s a lesson learned!

Father, this lesson hits me hard and digs deep. May I not merely shake it off and move along in the busyness of my life. May I not miss the next opportunity, should there be one. May I find the hidden treasure in those up ahead and may I turn and share what I’ve learned with those who follow. Amen.